Meta’s boss Mark Zuckerberg should “immediately cancel” plans to allow minors to enter the metaverse to keep children safe, said a group of more than 20 children’s safety groups in an open letter.
Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, is getting ready to allow teenagers aged 13 to 17 to access its virtual reality social network.
The platform allows users to engage with others in 3D settings using virtual reality headsets, but there are concerns among activists that children and adolescents may be subjected to mistreatment while using it.
“Getting teens to use the platform is essential to Meta’s bottom line because they are potential life-long users, and their presence and support can make the platform seem trendy. But what may be good for your bottom line may be incredibly harmful to young people,” reads the letter.
Meta already failing to keep children safe
A report entitled “Horizon Worlds Exposed,” compiled by the Center for Countering Digital Hate last month, found that underage users are already present in the free online game.
“The research follows Meta’s announcement that Horizon Worlds will be opening up to 13-17-year-olds as soon as March, showing that Meta is already failing to prevent minors from accessing mature content despite a supposed ban on minors accessing its VR apps,” stated the report.
These users are frequently subjected to harassment and abuse, including sexually explicit insults, as well as offensive content related to racism, misogyny, and homophobia.
The researchers analyzed 100 recordings of their visits to popular worlds within the app and found minors present in 66 of them.
CCDH found that Meta’s flagship VR app, Horizon Worlds, routinely subjects users to racist, misogynistic, and homophobic harassment.
— Center for Countering Digital Hate (@CCDHate) April 16, 2023
Additionally, minors were spotted in multiple “Mature Worlds” where sexually explicit content, legal drugs, and gambling are allowed. The report raises concerns about the safety of children on the platform.
“It’s beyond appalling that Mark Zuckerberg wants to save his failing Horizons World platform by targeting teens. Already, children are being exposed to homophobia, racism, sexism, and other reprehensible content on Horizon Worlds,” said Josh Golin, executive director of Fairplay.
Is history repeating itself?
The company was widely criticized for potentially having a negative effect on teenagers’ mental health back in 2021.
An internal study conducted by Instagram was leaked, revealing that teenage girls felt the app had a negative impact on their body image. Additionally, a number of teenage suicides were traced back to the harmful use of social media.
“It’s no longer possible to ignore social media when discussing young people’s mental health issues,” said Shirley Cramer CBE, CEO of the RSPH, adding that social media has been likened to cigarettes and alcohol in terms of its addictive potential.
Meta has claimed their research shows teenagers often have a positive experience with social media, as they defend their decision to open up Horizon Worlds to teenagers.
The company has promised to implement additional safety measures to ensure age-appropriate experiences for young users.
“Quest headsets are for people 13+ and we encourage parents and caretakers to use our parental supervision tools, including managing access to apps, to help ensure safe experiences,” said a Meta spokesperson.
However, it remains to be seen how Zuckerberg’s company will address the concerns of parents related to the metaverse activities of their sons and daughters.